We decided to put our fundraising skills—and software—to use with a little company competition. And even though our fundraising campaign has ended, we still have some great learnings and best practices to share with you.
As our buildOn fundraising campaign came to a close, all eyes turned to the leaderboard to see who our top individual fundraiser would be. It was a close race, but we had a clear winner when the campaign clock struck zero.
Justin Prugh, one of our account managers, raised $17,387.75 to help build schools in Nepal. This whopping total left all of us wondering how he did it. We sat down with him to dig into his process and learn how he crushed his personal fundraising goal.
The Start of It All
Will Schmidt: Justin Prugh! Our top fundraiser. Thank you for talking with me today. I think you have a lot of strong advice to offer.
Justin Prugh: Happy to be here, happy to help.
WS: I’d like to establish the timeframe first. At what point during our three month campaign did you start your personal fundraising page?
JP: The overall campaign kicked off in September, but I started my page about halfway through. I was very intentional about when I started for a few reasons.
One: I wanted to see what my colleagues were doing, hear what was working, and learn what didn’t work for them.
Two: three months is a long time to actively fundraise. I knew I’d be more successful if I concentrated my outreach during a smaller window of time.
Three: I turned 30 in November and decided to use my birthday month as a kickoff. It was a convenient time to weave in the fact that I would be celebrating this milestone, and that was the grounds for asking my family and friends for donations.
Not to mention, November leads nicely into the rest of the holiday season. I felt like it was a good 6 to 8-week period when people would be in a more generous and giving mindset.
WS: I think a lot of people would agree with that logic. So, when you were finally up and running, what was your first move?
Outreach, or, “The Ask”
JP: I needed to figure out who to ask for donations and how I was going to ask them. What were the organic opportunities I could count on to introduce the idea in a comfortable and casual way? Which interactions would require me to be more deliberate in my asks?
I used a lot of the Classy resources to help. For example, I first donated $25 to my own page, as encouraged by the coaching cards in the Fundraiser Dashboard. Then, instead of emailing 10 of the closest people I knew, I decided to either have a face-to-face conversation with them or call.
You start with the contacts that are closest to you and work your way out, like the layers of an onion.
WS: An onion? That’s a pretty great analogy, come to think of it.
We both smile and laugh.
JP: Yes, an onion! I started with my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and my wife.
WS: So, you started simple?
JP: Very simple and close to home, or the center of the onion. But after that, I opened it up to aunts and uncles, cousins, immediate friends, and former colleagues. I worked my way to the outer layers of the onion.
Eventually, I expanded further to friends I hadn’t spoken to in a long time before posting it on social media. I made each email I wrote an honest expression of gratitude. I sent very personalized messages to people.
Prugh reads the email to me, but asks that it remains off record because it’s deeply personal. However, the message is that he’s grateful for the love in his life and all those who are there for him. He can’t change the past, but he’s committed to his family in the future. His way of giving back is to pay it forward through this Nepal fundraiser.
WS: And this is the first email you sent?
JP: Yes, my first one sent.
WS: What was the response?
JP: Well, I spent a lot of time on the wording, the references I made, and getting it to a place where I knew it would elicit a strong reaction. I leaned on a lifetime’s worth of shared experiences I had with these people. I knew it would resonate with them, and it did.
What’s cool is that this first email laid the foundation for every subsequent ask I made. I’d weave in different elements of this letter and tailor it based on my relationship with the person I was asking to donate.
WS: Did you only send emails?
JP: Sometimes I’d do one-off emails, and other times I’d follow up with a phone call. The most important part was that the communication was personalized based on what I hoped they would connect with and respond to.
WS: Of these outreach efforts, what did you find was the most successful tactic?
JP: The most successful tactic—particularly among people I hadn’t spoken with in a long time—was setting up a phone call to catch up on their lives. I treated it like I would any conversation, and then casually mentioned that I was fundraising for this school in Nepal.
I’d send them a follow-up email later, referencing something valuable from the conversation—funny stories, restaurants we talked about. I framed it as:
“Hey, here’s the Nepal fundraiser I mentioned. If you want to donate I’d appreciate it.
WS: I feel like that type of casual ask goes a long way towards bringing in donations.
JP: It does! But I would never, on the phone, ask if they wanted to donate. I know my strength is as a writer, so to set myself up for the best chance of success, I’d save my hard ask for the email.
WS: Part of what I like about your approach is that it brought in a wide range of donations. You had the small ones, but you also had the single biggest donation of our entire campaign. We’re all dying to know the story here. How did you do it?
Influence Equals Money
JP: It’s a great story. I started thinking about who, among my friends and family members, had the largest social media following. Here’s the trick: sometimes it’s best to think about who can give you access to a larger network than you have, just by reposting something you share.
One of my close friends is a professional athlete. In growing her career she has cultivated a sizeable following, particularly on Facebook. I thought it’d be great to catch up with her over phone, mention the campaign, and shift my ask to focus on the share more than the donation.
WS: You didn’t ask her to donate? Just to share the post on her Facebook?
JP: I made a very gentle ask for a donation, but, yes, my primary call to action was for her to share my Facebook post with the link to my fundraising page. She ended up making a donation and posting my note to her Facebook audience. It was then seen by a former high school classmate of mine, a person I hadn’t spoken to in a decade.
Later that week, I was getting ready to shut down my computer around 11 p.m., after a lengthy conversation with my wife about how badly I wanted to be the top fundraiser. And then my computer pinged.
It was my old high school friend. She had seen my post and was inspired by my campaign message. She wanted to donate right then and there, and I was expecting a few hundred dollars at most. However, she said:
“Great, there’s $15,000 coming your way.
It’s hard to put my reaction into words. My jaw was on the floor. I asked for her number and called to catch up immediately. This was a donation that warranted that kind of response even though it was late at night.
It’s All About the Follow-Up
WS: Holy moly, that’s incredible! It absolutely warranted that kind of response. I’m curious though, what about your other donors who helped you get here?
JP: In addition to personalized thank you emails for each of my donors, I also sent a note back to everyone who donated to my campaign and shared the update that I was the top fundraiser.
Above all, I made it clear that their contribution made an impact on my life, as well as to lives of the people in Nepal and their future generations. This was a lasting impact that would reach far and wide.
Never Forget the Golden Rule
WS: I love it. That’s such a strong message to send to your supporters. And it leads nicely into my final question for you today. If you had to give one piece of advice, what would you say to fundraisers who want to be successful like you?
JP: It’s the golden rule: ask people how you would like to be asked. Meet them where they are. This is a really hard thing to do, to ask somebody for money. Go through the steps of taking the time to write a more thoughtful email, or have a slightly longer than normal conversation.
Every minor adjustment or tweak to the language, every extra minute you give them—it creates a more meaningful and personalized experience. It gets them invested in supporting you as a friend and a fundraiser.
It’s less about what you say, and all in how you say it.
Prugh wasn’t the only person to raise a sizeable amount of money like this. In fact, he’ll be one of 13 Classy employees who get to travel to Nepal and build the school as a result of their fundraising success.
If there’s one thing we can learn from Prugh’s campaign though, it’s that you never know where your next donation is going to come from. So, approach each and every appeal with thoughtfulness and always treat your donors with respect.
Let us know if you or your individual fundraisers have had similar fundraising success. We’d love to hear from you.